Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Why Does My Apple Tree Only Produce Every Other Year?

Apple trees produce fruit on small branches called spurs. Spurs are found on older, more mature branches and can take several years to develop. At the tip of each spur you will find the terminal bud. This bud is larger than the lateral buds and has a protective scaly cover. Within the scales of the terminal bud found at the tip of each spur are miniature blossoms, waiting to emerge in the spring when environmental conditions are just right. These miniature blossoms were developed during the previous summer months and then lay dormant through the winter.

Apple Spur Diagram

When a bud on a spur blooms, is pollinated, and sets fruit, all of the energy at this location in the tree is focused on maturing and ripening those apples. If apples are present, your tree will not develop the miniature blossoms on that spur for next year. Your apple tree naturally balances some spurs producing fruit and others producing blossoms.

Apple Blossom Pollinated

So why does your apple tree only produce every other year? Well, something interrupted that natural balance between fruit and blossom production. For example, If your area experienced a late frost and all of the blossoms froze, then your apple tree will have no fruit that season and each and every spur will produce new blossoms for next spring.

Frost Damaged Apple Blossoms

Next spring, assuming the weather cooperates, your tree will have apples on each spur and none of the spurs will produce blossoms for the next year. And so, the "on year, off year" cycle begins.

Fruit Set on Each and Every Apple Spur

Is there anything you can do to get fruit every year again? 

Yes! 

To put your tree back to producing fruit every year, you will need to thin the fruit as soon as it sets. Remove all of the fruit on 40-60% of the spurs when you have an "on year". If you do this, your tree will start producing blossoms on those empty spurs for the next spring, and you will once again bring balance to your orchard.

Apple Balance Restored

Thanks for reading! for more information about the care and pruning of your fruit trees, please take our Free 9 Lesson Fruit Tree Pruning Course and join our Backyard Fruit Growers Facebook Group. Also, please subscribe to our Fruit Pruning YouTube Channel.